‘Have cake and eat it’ says UK Brexit strategy memo

The British government's Brexit negotiating strategy appears to be 'have cake and eat it' - ie, attempt to keep access to the single market in all sectors, whilst leaving the EU. [kokalola/Flickr]

Britain’s strategy for the upcoming Brexit negotiations with the EU is to “have cake and eat it”, according to memo photographed outside the Department for Exiting the EU on Downing Street.

The picture was taken by long-lens cameras on Monday (28 November) and shows a handwritten memo by an aide to Mark Field – who is vice-chairman of the Conservative Party and the MP for the City of London.

Its language reflects that of Britain’s current Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, a leading ‘Leave’ campaigner, and the English proverb ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it.’

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The memo – photographed yesterday – also suggests the UK will have difficulty persuading Brussels on the services sectors, including London’s financial sector, because [the] “French most likely to be difficult” – a reference to Paris’ hopes of luring financial services after Brexit.

The note, held by an aide to Field, and seemingly representing notes made during a meeting at Number 9 Downing Street, the Brexit department, also states there is a “very French negotiating team” – a reference to Michel Barnier, the  EU’s lead negotiator and a former French minister.


The note caused immediate embarrassment in Downing Street, which pointed out they were not an official record by a government minister or official.

“These individual notes do not belong to a government official or a special adviser. They do not reflect the government’s position in relation to Brexit negotiations,” a government spokesperson told AFP.

However, they seem to reflect much government thinking – more than has been made public by Theresa May and her ministers’ refusal to set out in advance their negotiating positions.

The memo suggests Britain will fail to keep access to the European single market and will seek to keep the negotiations to two years, rejecting the idea of a lengthier transitional deal aimed at lessening the sudden impact of leaving the EU.

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“Keep the two years. Won’t provide more detail. We think it’s unlikely we’ll be offered single market,” the notes read.

“Transitional – loathe to do it. Whitehall will hold onto it,” the notes add, referring to the view that pro-EU lawmakers in Britain would seek to make a transitional deal permanent.

‘Very French negotiating team’

The notes photographed on Monday go into brief detail on negotiating by sector, suggesting a deal on manufacturing will be “relatively straightforward”.

“Services harder – because French hoping for business,” is also written, while “French likely to be most difficult” appears further down the page.

Paris is just one of many European cities hoping to attract business away from the City of London financial hub, by promising access to the EU single market and free movement of workers.

“Canada Plus” is scrawled on the notepad, likely referring to the recent trade deal struck between Ottawa and Brussels, while the comment “no Norway” suggests London should not seek membership of the the tariff-free European Economic Area as part of its EU exit.

The notes will prove embarrassing for Downing Street, following a memo leaked earlier this month which claimed the government had no overarching plan for Brexit.

Leaked memo: UK government has no Brexit strategy

The British government has no Brexit strategy, and may not have one before triggering Article 50 in March 2017, according to a leaked memo published by The Times today (15 November).

Civil servants are struggling to cope with more than 500 Brexit-related projects and an extra 30,000 staff may be needed to handle the workload, according to the memo, reportedly prepared for the government by a consultant.

The memo also mentions a “very French negotiating team”, in an apparent nod to the European Commission’s top Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, a former French minister.

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